The use of bridal mehndi is one of the most alluring, elegant, and exotic wedding traditions seen throughout the world. With their intricate, delicate, and seemingly endless forms, they’ve captivated would-be-brides for ages.
History of Bridal Mehndi
Dried, powdered, and mixed with oil—the use of henna for the human body dates back possibly as many as 9,000 years to ancient Egypt. It was used for its natural cooling properties when applied to the skin, and even to dress mummies. Most glamorously, however, its use for beautification is rumored to have been employed by Cleopatra herself.
Once introduced in India, the use of bridal mehndi quickly spread. It became widely used in Arabic nations, is essential to Pakistani wedding culture, and is seen in Tibet, the Maldives, and Bangladesh as well. Its popularity owed probably not just to its astounding beauty, but also because it made a great substitute for expensive gold or silver jewelry.
Though also used for birthdays, holidays, and other special events, mehndi, of course, found its most popular use in weddings.
Somewhat like a modern day western bachelorette party, brides would often have “Mehndi Night.” This involved the gathering of the bride’s closest relatives and friends who would participate in games and enjoy music, and dancing. All of this happened while the bride received intricate mehndi patterns primarily on her feet and hands, but also up her arms, legs, and sometimes on her shoulders and back. These would take hours. So it’s no surprise that brides today opt to have the designs done beforehand and are able to better participate in the festivities.
Traditional Bridal Mehndi Designs
Wedding ceremonies the world over are full to the brim with symbolism. Even in the intricacies of bridal mehndi, each element has traditionally held a special meaning.
Brides choose the elements of their mehndi designs to represent their hopes and feelings not just for the day of their wedding, but also for the future of their new marriage.
Brides can often find a corresponding traditional symbol to match their wishes for their union:
- Joy. The simplest of wishes for a wedding day, are conveyed by one of the most popular icons. Flowers, particularly prominent in Arabic bridal mehndi designs, represent joy and celebration.
- Fertility. Not just the union of two souls, weddings usually also signify the start of a new family. To represent this, brides often use flower buds in their designs.
- Stability and Security. Settling down in a new home with their new spouse, brides who wish for their homes to be secure may choose to include shell designs.
- Beauty. On this day above all others, a woman wishes to be at her most beautiful. Most representatives of this are images of peacocks, often concentrating on their beautiful plumes, so much like a bride’s veil.
- Longevity. While the wedding lasts but one day, the hope is for an enduring union. Bridal mehndi designs for hands and legs look most elegant with the wrapping of vines, which represent perseverance and vitality.
Modern Bridal Mehndi Designs
Following a surge in popularity in the west during the 1990s, modern bridal mehndi designs have taken a turn to the creative.
Much like permanent tattoos, modern brides choose mehndi designs that are deeply personal and individualistic. Sometimes literal, and sometimes chosen solely for aesthetics, the latest bridal mehndi designs are just as captivating as ever.
Some modern trends in Bridal Mehndi include:
- Veils. It seems a natural transition, since bridal mehndi has always had a very lacy look, that modern brides are getting mehndi designs that represent not just lace, but often the mesh of their veils. Lace or veil type patterns also make superb bridal mehndi designs for full hands, giving the appearance of delicate gloves.
- Non-Traditional Flowers. While you have probably seen the traditional mehndi flowers that often look like simple variations of daisies or cherry blossoms, brides today are opting to get their favorite flowers, and may even get floral designs to match their bouquet.
- Groom’s Initials. This one might be a secret tradition, but it’s no secret anymore. Brides have often gotten their groom’s initials hidden in their mehndi designs. Though these days it’s more likely for the initials to be woven into a more obvious place of honor.
- Geometric Patterns and Weaves. While checkerboards and squares have actually been used in traditional mehndi, modern geometric patterns can be edgier and more diverse. Mehndi designs meant to look like complex tile, woven textile, or even edgy geometric chevron patterns are a great way for brides to show off their heritage and uniqueness.
Traditionally, henna has come in pretty basic colors, reddish-brown being its natural color. Yellows have been added with turmeric. Dye p-phenylenediamine (PPD) has also been added to henna to make it appear blacker, though this can cause an allergic reaction.
Now, however, there are a range of options available to achieve the look of traditional henna mehndi, while offering more creative choices.
- Glitter and Glitz. Brides these days are increasingly opting to add stick-on crystals to their henna mehndi designs in order to add some glamor. They’re perfect because they can be added wherever a dot or teardrop would be placed (which, if you’ve seen a mehndi design, you know is often). Silver or gold stick-on decorations are also quite popular.
- Pure White. Though at their origins, bridal mehndi designs come from a range of cultures employing all kinds of colorful bridal costumes, in the west where mehndi is increasingly used, the traditional color is white. To match, there is now a popular method for painting on a white paste that dries to resemble henna.
- A Rainbow of Possibilities. There are a range of body safe paints that can either be added to, or used as if they were real henna, making a bridal mehndi design even more eye-catching and unique. The trick here is making absolutely certain the colors will not rub off on the dress!
Timeless Bridal Beauty
From the past to the present, bridal mehndi creates an enchanting and unique union between the traditional and the contemporary with countless brides to adorn for centuries to come.